Bad boy Bryn does good

The end of another week.  As the dust settles, it’s in order to set down a  note of the enjoyment provided by Bryn’s concert at the RFH on Wednesday.

Having carped about ‘sing the CD’ concerts in connection with Renee Fleming’s rather mediocre effort the week before, I have to say that this show, based on Bryn’s recent (and, in my humble opinion., rather good) CD release ‘Bad Boys’, worked rather well.  The reason lies principally in Bryn’s force of personality, which made you forgive the orchestra being not top-notch, the chorus being a little less than that, and the whole thing having a distinct whiff of marketing, not least in the £5 Gubbay programmes (no libretto/translation, please note).

Different costumes accompanied each number, even if it was only a differently-coloured scarf draped around his suit jacket, which conjured up a rather raffish Poirot dinner party image.  A rifle accompanied Kaspar for the number from Der Freischutz and Dr Dulcamara carried his potions in a capaciously-pocketed cloak.  This included a bottle of the beer which was, I assume, of the brand with which Bryn’s programme bio gleefully reported him as having a “proud association”.  With so many proud associations, my side-on slips seat (which was worse than the website implied, SBC please note) suddenly seemed steep at £35.  Surely Rolex et al were subsidising it?  Oh, silly me, there’s the Grubbay factor.  Why do I feel so out of step with the world of today?  Sigh.

The numbers were, however, reasonably generous.  Freischutz, Faust, Mefistofele, Tosca (the highlight), Sweeney Todd (not the best choice from that piece), Threepenny Opera, Otello and an encore from Les Mis. But the stop-start feeling was generated by the regular detours to display the Sinfonia Cymru’s skills:  Danse Macabre, Faust ballet music, Night on Bare Mountain, that sort of thing.  The Faust Soldiers’ Chorus (sung in English) was a good display of full-on singing by the London Welsh Chorale, but I fear that their other interventions sounded less exciting: it all seemed a bit woolly and whispy in alternating measure.  Sinfonia Cymru were good, I thought, and gave us both full-throttle and sensitive moments with finesse and, to be honest, rather fewer horn-fluffs than there had been in the LPO’s Wagner/Scriabin concert of the other week.

The Sweeney Todd number was “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” instead of the CD’s offering of the Epiphany, presumably because the chorus were present rather than a Mrs Lovett (I’m not sure that Anne Sofie von Otter will make a landmark Mrs Lovett based on the disc’s evidence…)  However, in the audience there was one Maria Friedman so I did briefly entertain hopes of a call for ‘is there a Mrs Lovett in the audience?’, but alas…  She sat a couple of seats from Sir Ian McKellen, who provided one of the unintentional highlights of the evening when he cringed endearingly at the broadcast of his exhortation to switch off our mobiles, not cough, etc.  Awww…

We sang Bryn happy birthday as well (“better than Cardiff,” he admitted sotto voce), albeit at his own instigation which is rather cheeky.  And it was in these little moments that any misgivings evaporated about the marketing hype, Grubbay-managed, over-priced roadshow quality of the evening.  Despite some stilted verbiage in between numbers, those numbers were delivered with absolute commitment and in fine voice, with all of the dramatic engagement and nuanced singing that we expect from Bryn Terfel.  All in all, it was good fun, even if (despite all I’ve just said) the only really, absolutely top-flight number that really got the goosebumps going was the Tosca number that closed the first half.  I still don’t like the ‘sing the CD’ roadshow concept, but I do think Bryn brought it off:  with the starchy formal classical concert atmosphere set aside, enough fun prevailed to banish the misgivings. 

Then there was a signing in the Foyer, so I have pictures and we have a pleasant scrawl across the programme from our reigning operatic villain.  Lovely.  We trotted off home humming Stars from Les Miserables (not the best thing of the night, but the last thing of the night – and it stuck in my head!) and smiling.  For a Wednesday, what more can you ask?  Ta Bryn!

[A further quick note:  the ‘other half’ took himself off to Angela Gheorghiu at the RFH the other day.  Summary: far from full, which raises the question of whether the postponement had pee’d people off a bit too much, but she sang reasonably generously, gave four encores, spent some time singing to the people in the choir (which feels like quite a nice gesture) and at one point she forgot the words and stopped the number to consult the conductor’s score… Oo-er.]

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